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Site of proposed University parking garage
Ford Great-Granddaughter Returns Home to Help Uncover Mystery of Who was Buried in Old Farm’s Family Plot

email article to a friend June 27, 2002
Contact: Carol Wood
(434) 924-6189
TV contact: (434) 924-7550

The great-granddaughter of George Sidney Ford and Amanda Wood Ford may have helped to uncover the mystery that has shrouded an apparent 19th-century grave shaft on the site of a planned University of Virginia parking garage.

Alice Norris, 62, who lived on the property until she was a teenager, came to Charlottesville last weekend to clear up the theories of just who was buried in that family plot.

Alice Norris, shown with her mother
Alice Norris as a small child, with her mother

Norris said that her great-grandmother, who with her husband owned a farm near the corner of Emmet Street and Ivy Road, was buried at the site in 1895. But, she said, her great-grandmother was exhumed in the mid-1950s when Norris' parents sold the property. Not wanting to leave Amanda behind, Norris' mother, Ruth Ford Norris, had her moved to the cemetery at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Ivy where George Sidney had been buried in 1911. 

On Saturday, Norris, armed with stacks of family documents, led several University officials -- including Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Leonard W. Sandridge -- out to St. Paul's to show them the stone marker at George Sidney Ford's and Amanda Wood Ford's final resting place.

Sandridge said today that despite this new information, the University asked archaeologist Benjamin Ford (no relation) to continue his excavation of the grave shaft. "We are grateful to Mrs. Norris for the important information she has provided," Sandridge said, "but we want to be 100 percent sure about this."

In late May, the University hired archaeologist Ford to begin exploration of a 32-by-32-foot area designated as a cemetery on an 1895 deed. After finding signs of a grave shaft, Ford and his colleagues unearthed remnants of a coffin on June 14. They included five nails, some with small wood fragments attached, and a U-shaped piece of what appeared to be a coffin handle. He previously had found one nail with wood fragments.

After announcing those findings, University officials said they would await Ford's report, due this week, and would continue consulting with the state's Department of Historic Resources about appropriate next steps. At the time, it was presumed that human remains might still be found at the gravesite if excavation were to continue. DHR regulations and state law provide that if human remains are found, they can be removed and reinterred under certain circumstances. Another option would be to leave the remains and rework the placement of the parking garage.

headstone for George S. Ford and Amanda WoodAt about the same time Ben Ford was making his discoveries, Norris received news clippings from a friend in Charlottesville relating what she calls "some inaccuracies" about Norris' Ford ancestors. "I didn't want my great-grandparents' names to be used to mislead anyone," she said.

Norris believes there was a pragmatic reason that records from the 1954 sale say that no burials had taken place at the family cemetery, although she acknowledges she doesn't know that as fact. "The realtor probably thought it was not a good idea to talk about it," she said, "as it could have hurt the sale."

George Sidney, a widower when he married Amanda, died at the age of 79 in 1911. Amanda, the mother of his three youngest children - Elizabeth Davis Ford, George Edgar Ford and Andrew John Ford - and stepmother to his two older ones, had died 16 years earlier. Norris' grandfather was their middle son, George Edgar.

Norris, who works at Georgetown University in Washington, is something of an amateur genealogist who has spent the last dozen years compiling notebooks of her family's history. She has documents that date back to early 19th-century London when her great-grandfather - George Sidney Ford - then 17, set sail for America to join his two older brothers who were already ensconced in Virginia.

George Sidney Ford eventually joined his older brother Charles in Charlottesville and went to work as a carpenter and builder. For 30 years, "G.S.," as he was known, was the

superintendent of buildings and grounds at the University of Virginia. And according to his obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Geo. S. Ford, … a Confederate veteran, known to hundreds of graduates of the University of Virginia throughout the country, is dead at the home of his daughter, Mrs. John R. Wood, at Ivy."

Norris paints a vivid picture of growing up at 1939 Ivy Road in the red brick building that now houses the University's Office of Institutional Assessment and Studies.
Her life was filled with horseback riding over the backfields, croquet games on the wide sloping lawn next to the house and family picnics along the creek that ran through the property. 

When not playing on the farm, Norris and her friends headed for the University's Grounds, which she called their playgrounds. "Our favorite occupation on Saturday was to go roller-skating in front of Madison Hall or the Rotunda." She and her grandfather, George Edgar Ford, were regulars at U.Va. football games.

On her 14th birthday, he presented her with George Sidney's "Recollections on the Past," written in February 1910, a year before his death. That document probably helped lay the groundwork for what would become her later interest in family history. "My grandfather had told me many of those stories," Norris said, "but with his gift, I got to read them over and over. I never knew my great-grandfather, but I always felt close to him."

She would like to see a small remembrance garden, in honor of George Sidney and Amanda, worked into the plans for the public space in front of the parking garage. "Nothing big," she said, "just a bit of a Victorian garden where students and neighbors could sit and reflect. He had been a dedicated employee of the University for 30 years, and Amanda loved her gardens. I think they would have liked that."

If you would like to interview Alice Norris, call Carol Wood, director of News Services at (434) 924-6189.

Several photographs are available electronically. They include a photograph of the stone marker on the Fords' gravesite at St. Paul's Episcopal Church at Ivy, as well as several old family snapshots of the Ford home.

Call or e-mail Rebecca Arrington, News Graphics Editor, at 434-924-7189 or if you would like copies.

Obituaries for George Sidney Ford and Amanda Wood Ford

Mrs. George S. Ford died at 4 o'clock this morning at her residence near the University of Virginia, aged about fifty. Eleven days ago she suffered a stroke of paralysis from which she never recovered.
Her husband and three children - George, Andrew and Mrs. Bessie D. Wood - and a host of friends survive. The blow falls heavily on the devoted family, which has been sorely afflicted of late.
The funeral services will take place at her late residence 3 o'clock Monday afternoon.

From The Daily Progress, Friday, Feb 22, 1895

Charlottesville, Va., March 18.--Geo. S. Ford, aged seventy-five years, a Confederate veteran, known to hundreds of graduates of the University of Virginia throughout the country, is dead at the home of his daughter, Mrs. John R. Wood, at Ivy, this county. The funeral will take place at 1:30 o'clock tomorrow afternoon from St. Paul's Episcopal Church, the service to be conducted by Archdeacon F. W. Neve.

Mr. Ford had been in ill health for several months. On December 14 last he suffered a stroke of paralysis, his entire left side being affected. From this attack he rallied somewhat, but in the last few weeks he sank rapidly.

Mr. Ford was born in London, and, in company with his brother, Charles, came to this country at the age of seventeen. The two located at the University of Virginia, and were the architects of many structures at that institution and in Charlottesville, Charles was an expert swordsman, and at the outbreak of the Civil War went to Richmond as an instructor of cavalry. After the war he made a tour of the world, returning finally to London.

George Ford was for thirty years superintendent of grounds and buildings at the University of Virginia. About eighteen years ago he accepted a place as bookkeeper for Anderson Bros., booksellers at the university, a position which he held up to two years ago. He was twice married. His first wife was Miss Anne Bowyer, of this city.

Of the two children as a result of this union, one survives, Mrs. Hattie Temple, of Chelsea, Mass. His second wife was Miss Amanda Wood, of near Whiter Hall, this county. Her death occurred sixteen years ago. By this marriage there were three children, all of whom are now living--Mrs. J. R. Wood, of Ivy, and George E. and A. J. Ford, of this city.

Fom The Times-Dispatch, Richmond, Va., Sun., March 19, 1911 issue, p. 6, c. 3
Note: Saint Paul's Church at Ivy has verified that George S. Ford was buried in their cemetery in March 1911.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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